Music Business

Songwriters: Should You Pay Your Co-Writer To Demo Your Song?

by Marty Dodson
Dec 14, 2017

5 Songwriting Scenarios…

Recently, we had a lively and awesome debate in the private SongTown Masterclass page on Facebook about whether or not a “track guy” (Or girl) should charge their co-writers for building a track/demo for their song.  There truly is no one right or wrong answer to that question.  There might be times when that is appropriate, but there are definitely times when it’s highly inappropriate.  Let me illustrate some of the complex situations that occur in my writing and let you weigh in on the answer to that question:

Hit Writer/Staff Writer Track Guy

One guy I write with has had a number of hits and lots of cuts.  He’s a GREAT track guy.  He’s produced songs on some major label artists.  He has a publisher but they don’t have a Nashville office.  They are great with sync and pop pitches, but not really a player at all when pitching country.  So, this writer and I wrote what we thought was a great Kenny Chesney pitch.  I spent about an hour and a half the morning of our write working on ideas and found a great one that we used.  I came in with it all mapped out and part of a chorus.  We quickly wrote the song.  Two days later, he sent me a demo.  I got it pitched to Kenny Chesney and Kenny put it on the hold.  If we get it cut, we make the same amount of money since we have similar pub deals.  So, what do you think?  Should I have paid him to track the song?  Should he have paid me to pitch it since his publisher doesn’t have a plugger in Nashville and he admittedly “never leaves his basement”? Is a great demo that never gets heard worth anything?

Beginning Writer/Unsigned Track Guy

Today I’m writing with an unsigned guy that I think is really talented.  He doesn’t have a deal and he’s never had a cut, but he does KILLER tracks. He’s learning to write, but doesn’t often contribute a ton to the song.  I’m bringing in a signed artist to our write.  If we get the cut, this unsigned writer will make 25% more money than I will because he owns all of his publishing and I just have half of mine.  Should I pay him to do the track?  Should he pay me to pitch it?  For bringing a signed artist into our co-write?  Who is contributing more if he does a killer track?

Multiple Beginning Writers Including A Track Person

In SongTown, we have people with many different skill sets.  I’m going to single out Lucy Leblanc because she’s such a hard worker.  Lucy writes country music, but she lives on the West Coast near Vancouver.  Let’s say Lucy writes with a track person who charges her to do the track on their song.  Lucy comes to Nashville often at her own expense and pitches that song.  She even pays to go to some events where she can pitch.  She’s the hardest working woman in show business.  So, should she pay her co-writer to do a track?  Should her co-writer chip in on her flights, lodging and food when she comes to Nashville to pitch their songs?  Who is contributing the most?

So What Do You Think?

As you can see, there are many scenarios and factors that play into the answer to that question.  I arrive at my answer by looking back at a Bible story I have heard since I was a child.  I’ll paraphrase the story, but basically, there are three people making offerings at church.  A rich man makes a show of throwing $100 in the plate.  A middle class man contributes $10.  A poor woman with only a penny to her name quietly lays it in the plate.  Then the question is asked “Who gave the most?”  The answer, of course, is the woman who gave everything she had.  If you are writing with people who are giving it everything they have, there’s probably not a need to sort out whose work is most valuable in the process.  The idea, the melody, the lyric, the track, the final production and the pitching all have immense value.  If you aren’t writing with people who give everything they possibly can to the song and you feel a need to ask them for money to compensate you for working more than they do, you probably need new co-writers. Or you need a different view on the value of your (and their) contributions to the end result.

Write On, SongTown!
Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson is a multi-hit songwriter, co-founder of SongTown, and co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Cowriting and Song Building: Mastering Lyric Writing

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